The woodpecker had returned to the feeder at the bottom of the garden. Jack sipped his third cup of tea as he watched the visitor. His mind was elsewhere, darting between the unexpected letter he had received in yesterday morning’s post and the plans he had previously made for this day. Jack did not like to have his plans disrupted.
He had last seen Molly twenty years, three months and seventeen days ago. She had told him that it was over, that it should never have started. None of this made any sense to Jack who had expected to marry her. His mother had told him that one day he might meet a nice girl and get married. When Molly had let him kiss her, after he walked her home from the movie they had been to with a group of friends, he had thought they would get married.
When she left town he had wished that his mother was still alive to tell him what he should do. He rarely missed his mother, but she had sometimes been able to explain to him why the world behaved in such a confusing manner. Molly had told him that she liked him yet would not marry him; Jack had never understood why.
If Molly had married him she could have cooked the sort of meals that his mother used to make. Jack could cook seven dishes, a different one for each day of the week. He wondered if Molly would have made him macaroni cheese. The cheese sauce he had tried to make had curdled so he made a tomato sauce to go with his pasta. That was what he ate on a Tuesday.
Molly’s letter had unsettled him. He did not understand why she wanted to meet him, why she had suggested a strange coffee shop in town rather than his house. Jack liked his house, especially since he had thrown out his mother’s clutter. It was easy to clean now, not that Jack made much of a mess. The photographs in particular had made him feel he was being watched.
Jack decided that he would forego his planned walk along the river and meet Molly as she had requested. He washed and dried his cup, checked that he had his wallet and keys, then set off for town. It felt uncomfortable to be turning left rather than right at the end of his road.
The coffee shop was busy and Molly was nowhere to be seen. It was only when the overweight, middle aged woman; who had waved disconcertingly at him when he entered; introduced herself, that he realised his mistake. Agitated, he suggested that they go for a walk in the park and, despite the weather, she agreed.
Molly talked about moving from town to town, getting married and then divorced, regretting that she had not had children or kept in touch with old friends. Jack wondered if she wanted to marry him now, if he should try to kiss her again. He wasn’t sure that he wanted to.
When it started to rain heavily they took shelter in the faux temple by the man made lake and Molly started to cry. She told Jack that she was very unhappy so he patted her hand. Her sudden embrace made him jump up violently and she was thrown back hard against the rough, stone wall before slumping to the ground.
Jack didn’t know what to do for the best. She was too heavy to move far so he rolled her under some thick bushes to the side of the temple and hurried home. He was pleased that he had chosen to wear his waterproof coat.
The following week there was a report in the local paper about a dog walker finding the body of a mystery woman. It was several more weeks before she was identified, although nobody seemed to know why she had been in town. Jack followed the case with interest, wondering if anyone would be able to solve the puzzle.
After that Jack felt more at ease, as if a question that had hung over him had been answered. He was satisfied with his life whereas Molly had been unhappy, like his mother. A bang on the head seemed a much better remedy than drugs in a nightcap.
Jack smiled as he contemplated the manicured order of his garden. All was as it should be. The rightness eclipsed every mistake made along the way.